You Can Increase Diversity Without Lowering Your Standards

Joe Weinlick
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The idea that increasing diversity requires a sacrifice of quality is clearly flawed and prejudiced — it suggests that the bulk of top-quality candidates are white and male — but unfortunately, it is pervasive. As you seek to create a more varied team, you can overcome objections with a transparent process that prioritizes both diversity and professional standards.

Use Inclusive Language

If your company struggles to find a diverse selection of high-quality candidates, your job descriptions might be part of the problem. According to research from the University of Waterloo, the language you use can attract or turn off specific groups based on common stereotypes and perceptions. If you're looking to attract more women to your team, for example, be aware of terms that suggest a stereotypical masculine culture, such as "competitive" and "dominant." Research shows that these terms attract fewer female candidates than words such as "collaborative" and "support." A better strategy is to aim for a balance between the two. The same goes for terms that suggest age, such as "youthful" and "up-and-coming." When it comes to bringing in candidates from many ethnic backgrounds, it can be useful to use language that affirms your commitment to diversity. These simple changes can help by increasing diversity in your candidate pool and attracting highly qualified people from varying backgrounds.

Remove Identifying Factors

Once you have a pool of diverse, excellent candidates, bias comes into play. Implicit biases can have an enormous impact on the hiring process. Biases can affect a reviewer's opinion based on factors that have nothing to with performance, such as gender, ethnicity or age. This is particularly pervasive in STEM fields, where research shows that women are consistently ranked as less qualified merely based on their gender. When increasing diversity, it can be helpful to eliminate identifying factors. You might remove all names from resumes and applications in the review stage, for example, or eliminate dates of college graduation. A blind review process achieves two important goals: it helps with increasing diversity by eliminating bias and it maintains professional standards by placing the focus on objective qualifications.

Use a Diverse Interview Team

The interview stage is the final hurdle in increasing diversity. When interviewers come from similar backgrounds, their unconscious biases may predispose them to prefer similar candidates. To counteract this tendency, it's crucial to use an interview team that is as diverse as possible in terms of educational background, age, gender and ethnic background. This step can go a long way toward a fair, objective review process; it also helps reduce confirmation bias and a tendency to maintain the status quo for one group. If possible, take your process a step further by using a set of standardized questions.

Increasing diversity often requires companies to make changes to long-established hiring processes. By taking steps to eliminate bias and attract great candidates, you can build a diverse, high-performing team.

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